As yesterday was coming to a close I realized I had missed my deadline – the deadline for this week’s blog post.
I won’t apologize. This was a deadline missed for good reasons – I was away for the previous four days with an amazing group of students, and frankly, writing was not high on my priority list.
But I am home, as they all are, and I will write the post today instead.
We’ve Come and Gone to Mock Trial
I also won’t apologize for the context of this post, a topic that I have addressed several times in the more or recent past, and that some of you may be tired of hearing. But, if you have heard Mock Trial enough times from me to last you awhile, have no fear, it isn’t really the topic of this post, it is merely the context within which my post was born.
I spent this past weekend with twelve high school students, none of whom were biologically related to me (though one registered with my last name and I didn’t protest). I have known more than half of these students since before they were old enough to attend my Government Club or my classes, since they each had older siblings that were attending when they were still quite young. (And we’ve actually known several of these families since before those particular students were even born!) At the other end of the spectrum, I met one of the students less than three weeks ago, when she graciously agreed to fill our last spot for a competition that she knew little about.
Twenty-One Years as Government Club Advisor
This was my twenty-first year to be the advisor for the Way Home Christian School Government Club. It is also the last year I plan to coach Mock Trial (or Youth Judicial, as most others in Alabama refer to it). I knew that that day would come eventually, as my own children grew up, and as my life moved in other directions. But I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to give it up. I’ve taken more than forty teams to Montgomery during these last two decades, and somewhere between 100 and 200 students. Some of those students came and went over a brief period of time, signing up for a team, spending their two weeks to two months practicing and then competing, and then disappearing again from my life, either of their own accord, or on a rare occasion, when I asked them not to return. (I can happily say that the latter was only the case in a handful of times.)
Most of the students I have taken to Montgomery over the years are now adults, many of them married, and some with children of their own, but the ones I took this weekend are not there yet. They ranged in age from 15 to 18, and from ninth grade to seniors. I had gone into this fall knowing that I was passing the baton on after this year, and had prayed that God would give me “a good group of kids” for my last Mock Trial. He answered that prayer beyond what I could have even imagined.
Bringing Me to Tears
These kids brought me to tears (not a first for a Mock Trial weekend, sadly). But this was the first time that those were all tears of joy. I cannot think of one time in the entire weekend that I was angry with any of them, or even slightly annoyed for that matter. In spite of room issues the first night, late nights all weekend, and last minute changes to their trial plans when both teams had their opening lawyers start a day not feeling well, they hung in there, worked together, and continued to do their best. One team even had to do more trials than they felt like they had agreed to (four is the promised number of trials, with some teams getting a fifth, and generally only the top two teams getting in a sixth trial). But this weekend they had the two expected trials on Saturday, followed by four in a row on Sunday (most likely a record!) They were tired, some of them were more than a little overwhelmed by the extra efforts required by the two extra trials, but they all gave it their best, complained very little, and kept going.
Mock Trial Craziness
This year’s twelve students included four who had never attended a Mock Trial competition (two of whom may never have even heard about it until less than a month ago!). But even the ones that have been several times often forget some of the craziness that goes on at these events. And in spite of all of our experience and efforts, there is always new craziness that we didn’t expect. (Wait, you want me to cross this over-the-top difficult witness, keep it under three minutes, and somehow not come across as “mean”? And you expect me to respond to an objection of “unfair impeachment” that I’ve never heard of, isn’t in our list of objections, and that opposing counsel can’t even tell me where came from? Sure, why not.)
Throughout our weeks of preparation I always encourage the students to do their best. But I also never wanted them to feel pushed too hard or stressed because of it. For us, this simply isn’t about winning, it’s about the joy of competing, learning something new, and hopefully growing in the process. I’ve never been angry with a witness who has forgotten their answers on the stand, even if it means an impeachment (or a series of leading questions), or a lawyer who missed an objection or made a bad one. We talk about the mistakes and hope they go into each consecutive trial feeling stronger and more prepared. And maybe that will show up on their score sheets. (But often not, through no fault of these students, but that’s an entirely different matter.)
Most Not Future Lawyers
Most of these students will never become lawyers. In fact, it is likely that many of them will never step into a court room again after these competitions. But they still gain so much from participating in this program. I’ve watched so many of them come of out their shells, honing their abilities to argue their points, and learning to think on their feet. And throughout it all I watch so many of them develop friendships that will move into their post-school years with them. They often comfort others who have become overwhelmed or stressed, moving beyond just thinking about themselves.
An Enjoyable Weekend
I spent the weekend enjoying their company, enjoying their amazing performances, and being thankful, once again, that I had been granted the privilege of sharing this event with these and so many other students. As I pass the role of leading this group on to others, I have no regrets for all that doing this has cost me over the years, in lost sleep, time, or expenses. What more could a mother/coach/teacher/team mom want?
The Score Sheets Said What?
As we finished our final meal together for this event, picnicking at Peach Park, and going over the score sheets from our ten trials, complete with rounds of applause, mixed with hissing (at the judges who seemed to have slept through portions of the trials they were scoring), my heart was full of the joy of having watched these twelve students accomplish so much.
And just as I thought we were going to load up the vehicles and continue our journey home, the students surprised me. They had other plans before we did that. One by one they took turns telling me how much they had enjoyed this experience (and the previous ones for the veterans on the team). They spoke of how much I meant to them, how much this club has meant to them, as well as the opportunities to do these things. I was crying before the first one had finished speaking, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t stop until after they were done. As a coach for the past twenty-one years, I’ve spent lots of time with countless students. And there have certainly been the occasional thank you cards and gifts of thanks. But I don’t think anything has touched me the way those heartfelt words did yesterday.
The Time I Almost Quit
Six years ago I had threatened to quit at the end of a very stressful mock trial weekend. And when I sat in my hotel room looking at the six or seven students who had caused me so much heartache that weekend, I told them that they would be responsible for the fact that their younger siblings would never have the amazing opportunities that they had had. Fortunately, I went home from that weekend and had time to line up all the negative things and all the positive things that these weekends had brought along. And I had to admit, that in spite of the problems, the positives were still outweighing the negatives. So here I sat, six years later, listening to at least one of those younger siblings thanking me for the opportunities I had given her.
Tears of Joy
As a teacher I have been fairly confident over the years that I have made at least a small difference in many of my student’s lives. Yesterday, twelve of those students made me cry tears of joy by sharing some of those specifics with me. I am confident that memory will stay with me for a long time to come.
Tearfully and Joyfully,